[Smt-talk] Movable Do Subculture

Thomas Noll noll at cs.tu-berlin.de
Fri Jul 13 17:13:27 PDT 2012

Dear Dimitar,
"inadequate" for what? I think the underlying problem is a trade-off in the effectivity between the performance and the interpretation of written music. From a theoretical perspective the merit of movable Do is that it mediates the written notes through their musical meanings rather than connecting them directly to their production as a sound. From a performer perspective you have a point.  To train yourself to play the right sound at the right moment it may indeed be more effective to practice Fixed-Do. To train yourself to explicitly grasp the meanings of the tones and their relations it may be helpful at least to also(!) practice Movable-Do. This includes the challenge to "move the modes around", whenever adequate, rather than to use the 17 syllables throughout a modulating piece. I would, for example, tend to assume that movable Do trained musicians are better in sight-transposing than fixed Do trained musicians. 
with best wishes

> Not to speak of the fact that movable Do is clumsy and inadequate with its 17 syllables, especially when singing melodies with modulations and atonal fragments. Fixed Do is singing by using the names of the notes,which is the most natural approach to singing - as if English speaking musicians sing with letters. In this sense, it is not necessarily a system. In my view, American students (except those who study fixed Do at Eastman and other conservatories) are crippled through the massive application of fixed Do, which was probably created by Zoltan Kodaly for the children in the kindergarten.
> Singing at first sight is a special activity, and it is there where the qualities of a system comes forward. A movable Do singer does a mathematical work, for he/she imagines the name of the note as a letter first (A, B, C, etc.) and then they translate that real name to a syllable. This unnecessary process slows down the reading of music, and when they face a modulating melody, they have to do the math as of where exactly the modulation occurs; for they have to accommodate the new tonic by changing the syllables. However, first sight singing is about singing smoothly through an unfamiliar fragment, not to make an analysis during the process of singing. I am yet to see a good movable Do singer at first sight. Even if they had a perfect pitch, they would stumble upon a syllable, if they had to use movable Do.
> In my teaching at Texas State, I had to switch to movable Do (because of the policy of the school), and I was able to realize how far behind the education in sight singing was. More that 10 years ago, when I taught at the University of South Carolina (where Prof. Dorothy Payne, an Eastman graduate, had introduced fixed Do), I did not see so many problems in our students' singing. Unfortunately, after Dorothy's retiring, the movable Do was introduced there too.
> You do not need 17 syllables to sing.You do not have to imagine the solmization syllables as an exotic tool that should be moved around. If my English speaking colleagues imagined for a second that their letter system (C, D, E, etc.) was movable, and they had to look at E-flat major and call it "C", they would be appalled with such a prospective! In the same manner, most Europeans are appalled when someone is making them changing the names of the notes. A colleague of mine in the Bukarest conservatory told me a story about an American professor visiting a class there; he sang different examples in movable Do. The students looked with condescension at his heroic attempts to sing through with strange syllables, and then they sang naturally the same examples twice as fast than he. Embarrassment. Movable Do.
> Best regards,
> Dimitar Ninov
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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Thomas Noll
noll at cs.tu-berlin.de
Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya, Barcelona 
Departament de Teoria i Composició 


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